Then and Now

(c)(p) 2015 Timberhead Music, LLC
PO Box 840
Camden ME 04843

Recording and engineering: Hamilton Hall and others

Mastering: Grey Larsen, Grey Larsen Mastering

Graphic Design: Ken Gross

Producers: Gordon Bok and Noel Paul Stookey

Then & Now

        Fifty-five years ago, Noel Paul Stookey offered to produce an album of my music. I had another good trade at the time and didn’t feel ready to commit to that, but in 1965 we went into a studio in New York and he guided me through the process.
        I was ambivalent about being a professional musician, but in the fifty years since then I have been grateful to him and Betty for that great boost of confidence and encouragement.
        So here are selections from that original recording (that so many of you have asked for) and some that I’ve recorded in the last year or so in my home in Camden. [The 1965 recordings are all referred to in italics, the recently recorded in regular type.]                         Gordon Bok

we were young. we were untried. we were true: to one another and to the songs. songs which, in their timelessness, now restore the deepest of our certainties.
                         Noel Paul Stookey

1. Johnny Todd    2:14

   I learned this song in 1964 from a shipmate on the Brixham Trawler Provident in the Bay of Biscay. He told me the tune had been the theme music for a British TV show called “Z-Cars.”

Johnny Todd he took a notion
For to cross the ocean wide
And he left his love behind him
Walking by the Liverpool tide.

For a week she wept with sorrow,
Tore her hair and wrung her hands
Till she met another sailor
Walking by the Liverpool sands.

Why fair made are you a-weeping
For your Johnny gone to sea?
If you'll wed with me tomorrow
I will kind and constant be.

I will buy you sheets and blankets
I'll buy you a wedding ring.
You shall have a guilded cradle
For to rock the baby in.

Johnny Todd came home from sailing,
Sailing on the ocean wide,
And he found his fair and false one
Was another sailor's bride.

All you men who go a-sailing
For to fight the foreign foe.
Do not leave your love like Johnny,
Marry her before you go!

2. A Blues for Sergei     2:12
©1985 Gordon Bok, BMI

    Sergei Cherkassow had escaped from Bulgaria in the 1950s. My Mongol friends introduced us when I was working winters in Philadelphia in the 1960s. For a year or so our only common language was music. He was a good and wise friend. We improvised this tune together before he was killed in an auto accident.

3. I’m a Rambler, I’m a Gambler     3:44
traditional American

    When I began working in Philadelphia in my late teens, I learned that the music my family was singing was called “folk.” I don’t remember learning this song but I have a hunch I heard it there.

I’m a rambler, I’m a gambler;
I’m a long way from home.
And the people don’t like me,
They can leave me alone.

I’ll eat when I’m hungry,
Drink when I’m dry,
And the whiskey don’t kill me,
I’ll live ‘til I die.

If you go down to Canso,
Don’t go there for long,
For their dark eyes are pretty,
But their fingers are strong.

They’ll anchor your drifting
In their smiles and their thighs,
And their tresses will bind you,
And there’s gold in their eyes.

There’s changes in the ocean,
Changes in the sea,
There’s changes in my true love;
There’s no change in me.

I’m a rambler, I’m a gambler;
I’m a long way from home.
And the people don’t like me,
They can leave me alone.

4. Herring Croon     3:41
©1965 Gordon Bok, BMI

    I grew up with the herring fishery feeding the folks around me. By the time I spent a little time out there in the sardine carrier Ida Mae, the fish had pretty much stopped coming into the coastal coves, and with advances in technology and bigger money, that fishery is on the way out.

Here I include the last verse I felt compelled to write about ten years ago.

Where have you gone, little herring?
What have you seen, tail-and-fin?
Cold and black, dead and dark,
Seaweed torn away,
Draggers staving everywhere
Drug this garden dry.
Pair trawl, mid-water trawl
—lord, they hunger after me—
Tore my home to hell-and-gone:
There’s no more place for me.
Gordon Bok ©2009

5. Grieve’s Handy (Flowers of Edinburgh, I’ll Get a Soldier for a Shilling)    1:19

    For a few years in my teens and twenties I played a lot of these tunes with four old fellows called The Old New Englanders, and with my employer of three different vessels, Capt. Havilah (Buds) Hawkins. They were helping to keep the threadbare contradance tradition alive around Maine. Everett Grieve was the piano-player in the Old New Englanders. I learned a lot from him.
    I’d never heard these dance tunes like this as solo guitar pieces, but I worked them out over the winters because I missed playing with those folks. I made a noun out of the word “handy” because I couldn’t remember the word “medley.”

6. The Old Bard Song     3:39
©2015 Gordon Bok

   My official Canadian title, awarded to me in the 1980s by James Stewart and Alden Nowlan, renowned bards of New Brunswick, is “Bard of the Southern Provinces”. Pondering this one day, I wondered just what ingredients one would need to do a proper job of it.

What in the world do the old bard need?
Ears to hear and the soul to heed,
Roof from the snow and the quiet craic,
Bit of a blanket to his back.
   Ears to hear and the soul to heed
   That do be what the old bard need.

What in the world do the old bard need?
Ears to hear and the strength to heed,
Dab of tin for a night of work,
Glim of the lamp, stave off the dark.
   Ears to hear and the strength to heed,
   That do be what the old bard need.

Soft dark wind in the hemlock-night,
Tap of the rain on the shingle tight
Southeast wind in the bending reed,
Cup of the warm for the body’s need.
   Ears to hear and a tear to weep.
   And he’ll be tucking him off to sleep

But what would you do for the old one’s heart?
A tale or a song of your own, to start.
The quiet word by the shifting fire,
Words of your own dear heart’s desire.
   For the cares of the one are the cares of us all
   Your heart gives heart to another soul.

Then, when the old path climbs again,
Threads of wonder, wish and pain
He’ll be weaving, the road along,
And you’ll be the fabric of the song.
   Ears to hear and the soul to heed;
   These for sure do the old bard need.

7. Coshieville     3:56
©1965 Stewart MacGregor

   Stewart sent me a tape and these words just after Archie Fisher had released the song with Folk Legacy. I was quite content with the way Archie sang it, but I remembered that Stewart wanted to hear how I would do it, so I started singing it again a few years ago for a fine songwriter who left us far too soon.

O the West wind blows to Coshieville, and with the winds came we
And where the river hugs the wood, and Blackthorns flower in May, there stood
A single Rowan Tree
So young and slender – so were you: I loved you both as there you grew
The day I took the road that loads by Rannoch to the sea.

Well I carved our names at Coshieville – the Rowan Tree stood still
But the darkening West was in my eye:
Despite your kisses and my lies, my thoughts had crossed the hill
I broke your heart as the minutes passed,
I shrugged and said that nothing lasts.
But many a backward glance I case, as we moved North to the drill.

The big wheels rumble up and down: the lorries know the way
I waved my hand, I hitched a ride
We crossed the bridge at Rannoch-side, where the diesel motors play.
I set my face to a cliff of stone
My ear to a Boring-hammer’s drone
But deep inside I rued alone, for you were far away.

Well the money moved from Erricht’s Loch – the Great Glen Beconed on
At Morriston the hills grew pale
We fought and drank through old Kintale
‘Til the money soon was gone.
I curse Loch Awshire’s Autumn raid, the Winter whiskey in Dunblaine
Till the West wind rose in the Spring again,
And my heart leapt at its song.

So I came at last to Coshieville – with a dozen hills aflame
You had another hand to hold –
Beneath the names I carved of old, there was another name
You looked me through, nor have a sign;
I drank the cup of bitter wine,
For well we knew the fault was mine – and I left the way I came.

8. Tehuacan (Lamento y Danza)     2:37
©1955 José Barroso, ASCAP

   I heard this in the 1950’s, played by that lovely musical ambassador Laurindo Almeida, and I fell in love with it. Ken Laws of Carlisle, Pennsylvania helped me work it out by ear. He’s an amazing jazz pianist with a wonderful ear. Nick Apollonio (builder of all my 12-string guitars) used to say, “You’ll get your doctorate in that tune.” I’m still trying.

9. I’se the B’y     1:56
traditional Newfoundland

   This is probably the most well-known Newfoundland song. I played it for my old friend Leakyboot when I was a teenager, and he said, “You know how to kill a Newfoundlander? Nail his boots to the floor and play “I’se the B’y.” He’ll break every bone in his body.”

I'se The B'y that builds the boat and
I'se The B'y that sails her and
I'se The B'y that catches the fish and
Brings 'em home to Liza

   Hip-yer-partner Sally Thibault
   Hip-yer-partner Sally Brown
   Fogo, Twillingate, Morton's Harbour,
   All around the circle

Salts and rinds to cover your flake,
Cake and tea for supper
Cod fish in the spring of the year,
Fried in maggoty butter


I don't want your maggoty fish
They're no good for winter
Well I can buy as good as that,
Way down in Bonavista!


I took Liza to a dance,
As fast as she can travel,
And every step that she could take,
Was up to her knees in gravel


Susan White she's outta sight,
Her petticoat wants a border,
Well old Sam Oliver in the dark,
He kissed her in the corner!


I'se The B'y that builds the boat and
I'se The B'y that sails her and
I'se The B'y that catches the fish and
Brings 'em home to Liza


10. Fifteen Ships on Georges Bank     3:14

   Georges Bank is one of the great shoals off this coast. Once an abundant provider of fish, it can quickly become a lethal place in a gale. This is a true story of a winter gale that destroyed 15 schooners out of Gloucester, Massachusetts.

I pray you pay attention
And listen unto me
Concerning all those noble men
Who drownded in the sea.
‘Twas in the month of February
In 1862,
These vessels sailed from Gloucester
With each a hardy crew.

The course was East-South-East they steered,
Cape Ann being out of sight;
They anchored on the Banks that night
With everything alright.
But on the 24th, at night,
The wind come on to blow,
The seas rose up like mountain-tops,
Which proved their overthrow.

The thoughts of home and loving ones
Did grieve their hearts full sore,
For well convinced were all these men
They’d see their homes no more.
No tongue can ever describe the scene,
The sky was full of snow,
And fifteen ships did founder there
And to bottom go.

A hundred and forty-nine brave friends
Who lately left the land,
Now they sleep on George’s Bank,
In the rough and shifting sand.
One hundred and seventy children
These men have left on shore,
And seventy mournful widows
Their sorrows to endure.

So now, you’d think with gloomy thoughts,
As on life’s path you roam
Of many’s the happy hours and days
You’ve spent with them at home;
For you they left their native shore,
For you the seas did roam,
For love and duty called them forth
To leave their happy home.

So now, adieu to George’s Bank,
My heart it doth despise,
For many’s the gale I’ve seen out there,
And heard those widows cry.
And now I bid you all adieu,
Dry up your tearful eye;
Prepare to meet your God above
And dwell beyond the skies.

11. The Ballad of Billy’s Man     4:14
©2005 Jon Broderick

   Jon is from Cannon Beach, Oregon, and every year he goes to Alaska’s Bristol Bay to fish (set-netting in an open-boat, a potentially dangerous in-shore fishery). As I write this, he and his family are probably gill netting sockeye salmon. Jon is “the one who made the first telephone call” that started the FisherPoets Gathering. Nushagak is one of the three major rivers that feed into Bristol Bay.

The tide is never slack out on the Nushugak; it races high, it races low
When the days grow long the Sockeye run so strong that fishers to their set nets go
To Combine Flats in early June Billy and his crew did run
So he could show his new deckhand just how set-netting’s done

They shoved off from the mud, pushed hard into the flood, and off the stern the net did race
And though the boat did roll, they let the outside anchor go; his man stood ready in his place
He’d braced himself at the weather rail, but his foot stood in a bight—
Billy leapt into the bow and he saved his deckhand’s life

Though his deckhand’s life he saved, with his own life he soon paid, for the same bight wrapped around his feet
As it pulled him from the boat, his man grabbed him by the coat, too late to save him from the sea.
Don’t let me go, poor Billy cried; you’ve got to save my life!
What will I tell my children three, what will I tell my wife?

Hard his deckhand tried against that rushing tide; hard that tide pulled Billy down
Hard the wind did blow, and when his coat let go, hard it was to see him drown
The Tide is never slack out on the Nushugak, it races up it races down.
As long as I set-net, I never will forget the night I let poor Billy drown.

12. Kuulan Polska #1     2:20
traditional Finnish

   A “polska” seems to be a tune of any rhythm, any speed, from Poland-or-not, but that quite often emphasizes the beat before the downbeat of the tune. Sometimes it has an improvisational section near the end. This is one of many fine songs/tunes sent to me by my musician pen pal Pertti Markkula from Finland. It was made in memory of a beloved violin player and teacher, Toivo Kuula, a century-or-so ago.

13. The Sands of Dee     2:33
words Charles Kingsley (1819–75), music ©1964 Gordon Bok

   I learned this poem as a child and in a fit of teenage savagery edited it rather severely. I probably should have recorded it back “then,” but I only remembered it a couple of years ago.

"O Mary, go and call the cattle home,
And call the cattle home,
And call the cattle home
Across the sands of Dee";

The western wind was wild and dank with foam,
And all alone went she.
The western tide crept up along the sand,
And o'er and o'er the sand,
And round and round the sand,
As far as eye could see.

The rolling mist came down and hid the land:
And never home came she.
"Oh! is it weed, or fish, or floating hair--
A tress of golden hair,
A drowned maiden's hair
Above the nets at sea?

Was never salmon yet that shone so fair
Among the stakes on Dee."
They rowed her in across the rolling foam,
The cruel crawling foam,
The cruel hungry foam,
To her grave beside the sea:

But still the boatmen hear her call the cattle home
Across the sands of Dee.

14. Acalento     3:38
© 1960 Dorival Caymmi

It is late, morning is arriving
Everything is sleeping, even the night,
I watch over you, my love,
Sleep, angel, or the Ox will rock your cradle.
   Ox, Ox, Ox, Ox with the black face
   Rock this child who is so afraid of scary faces
   Ox, Ox, Ox, Ox…
Up in the sky all the singing has stopped,
Even the angels have stopped singing.
Little mothers must also rest.
Sleep, angel, papa has come to watch over you.
    Ox, Ox, Ox, Ox…

   I have a vague memory of Caymmi singing it with his daughter to an orchestral arrangement. I tried to stay close to that arrangement with the guitar, but the most fun I’ve had with the song was performing it a few times with Paul Winter and the Paul Winter Consort.
   The reviewer Ralph Earle once described hearing the song as being hit in slow motion by a barrage of pillows.

15. Rosin the Beau    3:20

   Another song I can’t remember not knowing, but remember being charmed by the way the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem sang it, so this version is probably influenced by theirs.

I've traveled all over this world,
And now to another I go.
And I know that good quarters are waiting
To welcome old Rosin the Beau.

    Welcome old Rosin the Beau. (x2)
   And I know that good quarters are waiting
   To welcome old Rosin the Beau.

When I'm dead and laid out on the counter
A voice you will hear from below,
Saying "Send down a hogshead of whisky
To drink with old Rosin the Beau.

   To drink with old Rosin the Beau". (x2)
   Saying "Send down a hogshead of whisky
   To drink with old Rosin the Beau".

Then get a half dozen stout fellows
And stack them all up in a row
Let them drink out of half gallon bottles
To the memory of Rosin the Beau

   To the memory of Rosin the Beau (x2)
   Let them drink out of half gallon bottles
   To the memory of Rosin the Beau

Then get a half dozen stout fellows
And let them all stagger and go
And dig a great hole in the meadow
And in it put Rosin the Beau.

   And in it put Rosin the Beau. (x2)
   And dig a great hole in the meadow
   And in it put Rosin the Beau.

Then get ye a couple of bottles.
Put one at me head and me toe.
With a diamond ring scratch upon 'em
The name of old Rosin the Beau.

   The name of old Rosin the Beau. (x2)
   With a diamond ring scratch upon 'em
   The name of old Rosin the Beau.

I feel that old tyrant approaching,
That cruel remorseless old foe,
And I lift up me glass in his honour.
Take a drink with old Rosin the Beau.

   Take a drink with old Rosin the Beau. (x2)
   And I lift up me glass in his honour.
   Take a drink with old Rosin the Beau

16. Bay of Fundy    3:52
©1965 Gordon Bok, BMI

   We left Maine in Ed and ‘Lainie Porter’s schooner Surprise in a light wind and fog, and rolled and slatted our way across to Nova Scotia. It took us 11 days to reach Halifax, and I think we never had a clear day until we were in the Bras d’Or Lakes of Cape Breton Island.
   So there was plenty of time for the sounds and smells and motions of the swells and horns of that trip to soak into the song. Some of the words were inspired by letters from my brother Tony, fishing out of Vinalhaven in those years. ‘Lainie Porter was always singing a little, private comfort tune on that soggy trip, but when I tried to remember it, all that came to mind was the endless drone of the diaphone on Sambro Island. Ed is an old shipmate who has supported my music and art for many years.
   Noel Paul Stookey took time from his musical career with Peter, Paul and Mary to produce this album. I was having trouble trying to get the feeling of this song in a recording studio in Manhattan, so Noel turned off the lights in my part of the studio and opened the windows so I could hear the rain outside, and that was enough to take me where I needed to be with the song.

17. Bolivius     1:30
traditional from Savedra, Bolivia, arranged by Peter Platenius

   Peter was one of the friends who used to work in South America during the summers and who brought me my first large doses of those musics in my late teens.

18. Along the Famine Road     3:49
©1999 Brian Flynn

   During the Great Famine (mid-1800s), Ireland's common people were forced to build roads that were never intended for travel. These roads, many located in the rural west, started in isolated areas and ended nowhere. An estimated 500,000 men, women, and children were forced to build them in exchange for food.
   The Burren is a unique area of County Clare. It is rich with stark beauty and contains ancient and pre-Christian ruins, as well as one of the Famine Roads. It took me several years to find this road but when I did, it had a profound impact on me. It looked like it had been built yesterday, each stone in its place where it was set more than a century and a half before.
                         ~ Brian W. Flynn

Rock by rock and stone by stone I walked along the famine road
Through the limestone of the Burren at the foot of Mullaghmór
And I had a silent revelation as I walked this lonely strand
That every stone upon this road was touched by hungry hands

In my mind I see their black coats turned against the wind and rain
I hear their cries of desperation, the anger and the shame
To watch their children die of hunger, to be driven from the land
And I hear their prayers that went unanswered to feed these hungry hands

In spite of rain and hunger they broke and laid these stones
Somewhere deep inside they found the strength to carry on
And I'm sure they never realized, it was never in the plan
But they held the spirit of a nation safe in hungry hands

Now they say this road leads nowhere, but I'm sure it never ends
It took their children round the world to strange and distant lands
And we who are their children's children in our hearts we understand
That very road we've ever walked was built by hungry hands.

Rock by rock, stone by stone I walked along the famine road
Through the limestone of the Burren at the foot of Mullaghmór
And we who are this island's children in our hearts we understand
That very road we've ever walked was built by hungry hands.

Yes, every road I've ever walked was built by hungry hands.

19. Weevily Wheat/Wheat in the Ear    2:16

   Again, out of my childhood. I do recall seeing a part of it in a novel about the Gloucester fishing fleet. The “Lead her to the altar” verse was given to me by Greg Brown, a singer and fiddler from Newfoundland whom I met in Texas.

Take her by the little white hand, lead her like a pigeon,
Make her dance to Weevily Wheat and scatter her religion

   In the ear my true-love's a posy blowing
   Wheat in the ear, I’m going back to sea
   Wheat in the ear, I left you fit for sowing
   When I come back what a loaf of bread you’ll be

Trading boats have gone ashore, trading boats are landing
Trading boats have gone ashore all loaded down with brandy

   In the ear my true-love's a posy blowing...

I don’t want your weevily wheat, I don’t want your barley;
I want some flour and a half an hour to bake a cake for Charlie

   In the ear my true-love's a posy blowing...

Take her by the little white hand, lead her to the altar
Hug her neat and kiss her sweet, Mumma’s runaway daughter
   In the ear my true-love's a posy blowing...

20. A Blues for Sergei     2:42
©1985 Gordon Bok, BMI

   I play the tune differently now. As I get into it, I remember our times together, and what a nice groove it was.
   Some old songs I’ve re-recorded, some I’ve let go—like my life: so much of my past is with my present that it all flows together. All my days are the “good ol’ days,” and thank the world for that.